This is the first case of an Islamic Sharia Court in Nigeria sentencing a man to death for committing adultery. Such courts have already handed down death sentences to two women, although they have not been carried out.
The man in Bauchi State, Yunusa Chiwaya, is said to have confessed to having sex with his friend's wife. The woman with whom the offence was committed was set free after she swore on the Koran, that the accused had hypnotized her.
Bauchi State has joined other predominantly muslim northern Nigeria states that have adopted the strict Sharia code, which prescribes punishments such as stoning, amputation and caning for offenses including adultery, stealing and drunkenness.
Introduction of the code has atracted sharp criticism from opponents. International human rights groups loudly protested the recent convictions involving two women. While one woman was freed on a technicality, the other is still awaiting an appeals hearing.
When a sharia court in nearby Sokoto convicted Safiya Hussaini for a similar offence last year, local and international groups rose to her defense. Some people are worried that Yunusa’s case may not draw the same amount of attention on account of his gender. But Mrs. Oladapo, who is an official of the group Women In Nigeria (WIN), does not think so. She says the government should intervene regardless of Yunusa’s sex.
The government has been under pressure to act against about a dozen states practicing Sharia. Early this year, Justice Minister Godwin Agabi warned the states against violating the rights of citizens under the guise of implementing Sharia law.
Islamic scholar Muhammed Ladan says as a signatory to many international conventions against rights violation, the government could not have acted differently. He says among these conventions is the African Charter on Human and People’s rights, which also opposes the death sentence.
To some political observers, the latest conviction will re-open the debate on the place of Sharia in Nigeria. Its introduction two years ago polarized the country along religious lines. Many people also believe it was to blame for a spate of religious violence in some areas, which has claimed thousands of lives. And with general elections coming up next year, not a few expect it to be a major campaign issue.